It's never too early to get your child's eyes checked


Dr. Amy Bearden gives instructions before the start of an eye exam for Evan Bermudez, 6, at Optometric Physicians NW, 2222 James St., Bellingham, in June 2013.


Just because a child isn't reading books or looking at a blackboard yet, it doesn't mean it's not too early to get his eyes checked.

The American Optometric Association recommends getting a child's eyes checked once in infancy, once at 2 or 3 years old and once before kindergarten, around age 5.

The earlier any vision issues are diagnosed, the earlier doctors and parents can start working with a child to get them resolved, whether it's with glasses, vision therapy or other treatment.

"You see all kinds of kids who put up with their vision because they don't know it could be different," says Lynden optometrist Mira Swiecicki. "We want everyone to have that fair chance and start off with good vision."


Some common vision problems that can be detected in early childhood are nearsightedness (myopia, when your child has trouble seeing things from far away); farsightedness (hyperopia, or trouble seeing things close up); unaligned eyes (strabismus, where your child's eyes are not lined up or are crossed); astigmatism, which could cause blurry vision; and amblyopia (lazy eye, which usually can be corrected or improved if caught early enough).

Hidden vision issues such as convergence insufficiency, when eyes have trouble focusing on items that are close to them, can be treated with vision therapy.

In Washington, schools are required to do vision and auditory screenings on students once a year in kindergarten through third grade, then once in fifth and seventh grade, said Janet Wisner, a school nurse for the Bellingham School District. The screenings mostly look at distance acuity, and students may get a second check by a school nurse and then a referral to an optometrist for a full check.

"If (vision issues) are unresolved, they can result in vision loss, academic difficulty, sometimes shy behavior or difficulties in group activities, misinterpreting work because of a lack of clarity," Wisner said. "Then just fatigue, and that can be a really big one. When it takes a lot of effort to be able to see an object, one just gets tired."


Swiecicki and optometrist Amy Bearden say that parents shouldn't rely only on school screenings to test their children's eye health, as those screenings can miss some vision issues.

"You might see perfectly clearly on an eye exam," Bearden says. "But it doesn't tell you anything about 'Can you maintain that clarity?' and 'Is it comfortable to maintain that clarity?' If vision is coming and going and you can't sustain that, then the first thing that gets affected is reading."

She advises parents to have their children's eyes checked by an optometrist or ophthalmologist to make sure that eye health and all aspects of vision are checked. And because it can be difficult to know whether young children are having vision problems, parents should talk to the doctor about any headaches, reading issues or other symptoms that they may have noticed in their child.

Getting a vision issue diagnosed can really pay off, Swiecicki says. She once had a 7-year-old come in who had had double vision his whole life. When she asked if he had double vision, he told her no, but when she asked if he was seeing two of things up close, he said yes. Because that's how his vision had always been, he didn't know that it was an issue. He's 18 now, she says, and his mom worked hard with him to do eye exercises and within six months the issue had been corrected.

"Some kids have no symptoms or they don't vocalize symptoms because that's how their vision has always been," Swiecicki says.

Here are some common symptoms parents can look for that may indicate that a child has vision issues:
--Squinting or closing an eye while they're reading.
--While reading for a long time, your child might get double vision or have intermittent blurring of words.
--Skipping or repeating lines or words or losing their place while reading.
--Confusing similar-looking words or failing to recognize the same words in different sentences.
--If vision issues make reading uncomfortable, your child may start avoiding reading.
--Some vision issues could manifest themselves as behavioral issues that might be similar to attention deficit disorder.
--Rubbing eyes or excessive blinking.
--Abnormal redness or tearing of eyes.
--For teachers, they may notice child having difficulty looking at the blackboard or they may be squinting to see.

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